Our Top Things To Do in County Cork

When researching for places to go around County Cork, I wanted to focus on sights that were not just your average must-spots-for-tourists. I was interested in finding places that exemplify the county besides popular destinations such as the busy city of Cork and the iconic Blarney Castle.

County Cork is known for its historic port towns, Ireland’s second largest city Cork and for its scenic peninsulas.

As we entered the county after a night in the medieval town of Kilkenny, we made a short visit to the port town of Cobh and ended our day at Kinsale – a town known for its military history and culinary vibe.

The Must Spot to Stop: The Rock of Cashel

Even from a distance, as we drove into the small town of Cashel, we could see the ruins of a large cathedral standing impressively on top of a high mound.

One cannot go to County Cork on their first trip and skip the Rock of Cashel.

From the 4th to the 5th century, this site was the seat of the High Kings and from the 12th century onwards, it flourished as a religious complex until the Cromwellian forces massacred its 3000 inhabitants in the 17th century.  

Extremely popular with tourists, arriving early gave us the opportunity to truly take in the peaceful setting of the area: We walked inside the cathedral’s hollowed ruins and once behind it, admired the wide-ranging views of the countryside. 

Skipping Cork and Heading to The Port Town of Cobh

We entered Cobh after just over an hour drive. Sitting on a large island, the town is connected to the mainland by a short bridge and is known to have been a port for merchant and luxury ships - the Titanic made its last stop there before sailing to the Atlantic.

Not knowing what to really expect from Cobh, we arrived wanting to visit a smaller town instead of the better known and larger Cork.

We were pleasantly surprised by how colorful and lively the town is, with buildings brightly painted in multiple colors. A break from driving was even more welcomed as we strolled along its boat filled waterfront, while sipping coffee and stuffing ourselves with sweets from the nearby candy store.

We spent a little over an hour in town and then drove 45 minutes southwest towards the historic coastal town of Kinsale.

Kinsale: All About the Food

Besides its military history, Kinsale is recognized for its rich culinary tradition and considered one of the most beautiful town’s in Ireland.

Just before we arrived, we stopped at Charles Fort located along the town’s harbor not far from downtown. The fort is a great example of 17th century star-shaped fortification and one of the largest in the country.

Meandering from the fort along the coast is a scenic path called Scilly Walk that visitors can take directly to Kinsale. Since evening was approaching, we skipped it and drove directly to downtown.

Eateries Relished: Why Not Chinese?

With still enough daylight to get lost inside a labyrinth of narrow streets, we strolled along Kinsale's colorful Market Square in the heart of town and Main Street, lined with restaurants, shops and pubs. 

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While on Main Street, we stopped at Jo’s Café and Room, a small bakery and coffee shop that sells pastries and other utterly delicious sweets! We were not expecting how amazing their baked goods would be, particularly their shortbread cookie with vanilla sandwich.

I understand that the first thing that comes to mind when people think of Ireland is not Chinese food.

An acquaintance of mine from Ireland used to tell me wonders about the Chinese food she had back home. So we decided to try just that! Shanghai Express is a brightly orange-colored restaurant located past Main Street, on Lower O’Connell.

It focuses on Chinese fusion and tapas so we tried a variety of dishes. Their Lamb Spicy Meatball and seared Beef Teriyaki over Mash were our favorites from the many we consumed.

KEEP IN MIND

The Wrap-Up: The sights and towns we visited were just a small sample of what County Cork has to offer. This part of Ireland is truly unique and there is so much more to see: ocean routes, ruins and historical towns we wished we had more time to explore.

The B&B: Old Presbytery is located in the heart of Kinsale. It’s an amazing B&B with an incredible breakfast selection. It was our most expensive stay in Ireland (125 euros) but it was worth every penny.

The Heritage Card: It provides free access to all state managed OPW Heritage sites (monuments and historic properties) located throughout the country for a full year. During the time we spent in County Cork and County Kerry, we utilized this card quite extensively since we visited multiple sites in both regions.

The Extras: Blarney Castle was a 15th century medieval stronghold where most of its original structure has been lost except for its immense keep. This is one of Ireland’s most visited attractions and we certainly saw that by the early morning crowds descending on the site by the time we were leaving. If you have time constraints, I would recommend skipping it, unless you want to experience what the sight is really famous for: The kissing of the Blarney Stone.


- Want to see the full trip and plan your next? Check out our Ireland Two Week Itinerary!